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Κυριακή, 19 Απριλίου 2015 13:46

How to prepare an ERC proposal: The Tips (George Kolostoumpis)

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George Kolostoumpis (BSc, MSc, PhD), he currently serving in Health Sector use of technology, to facilitate the practice of evidence – based medicine promises to substantially improve health care quality. His research interests include e-health, m-health, Bioinformatics, Clinical Decision Support Systems, and systematic reviews in health technology assessments health services, research quality improvement service quality, social implications of health technologies. Since 2007, he joined Scientific Expert for Research & Innovation Projects of EU programme under FP7, Horizon 2020, ERC, ERAfrica and other EU bodies and organizations

Introduction:

The European Research Council (ERC) supports the most talented researchers who carry out frontier research in all the fields. The ERC welcomes cross disciplinary proposals and pioneering ideas in new and emerging fields which introduce unconventional and innovative approaches. The grants are highly competitive, based on bottom-up approach – the research topic is set by researcher himself rather than influenced by the European Commission priorities - .

Process:

Understand the process. The ERC publishes a Guide for Applicants as well as Guide for Reviewers. Both should be your bible, at all times, ask yourself how your proposal will stand according to the criteria and the process listed. Find out what your panel is, who the chair will be, and which past members have been on the panel. Your proposal will need to win all of them.

Start many, many months before the deadline. Unless your story is a winner straight from the inception, you will need lots of time for refining and revising the main idea and the many problems. In my case, I started writing the proposal 18 months before the deadline, although 6 months would have been okay, too, refining for another 12 months helped the proposal a lot.

Reserve several weeks for writing. You will need lots of time for collecting data, shaping the story, and checking the references. Consider a 2 – 3 week retreat for the writing alone, plus appropriate time for polishing. Let your friends and family know when you‘ll be back.

Get plenty of feedback. Your proposal will first be reviewed from people in your discipline, but not necessarily from people in your speciality. It may also be that your proposal will have to stand against proposals from totally difference discipline and speciality they’re from. Discussing your ideas and your proposal with as many people as possible and as diverse as possible will help. Such presentations not only help you to make your ideas explicit, but will also lobby for your ideas, and get feedback from the audience.

Rely on local expertise.ERC projects are huge, and thus involve substantial budget and resource planning.

Sell yourself.  Your proposal will be assessed on two criteria.  50% is your project, and it will be up to you to come up with a great idea.  50%, however, is your past achievements, and you will have to work hard on these.  What you need is irrefutable evidence for impact and excellence.  That is, facts on awards, services, papers, talks, students, tools; lasting impact in academia and industry; your quality as networker and advisor; and, last but not least, your ability to shape and create research fields.  Play by numbers: acceptance rates, citations, downloads.  Check the list of past grantees, their numbers and achievements to get an idea of what you're up against. Have unique selling points. "So, you're Brad Pitt? That don't impress me much."  When you're surrounded by supermen (and you will be), just being another superman is not enough.  So: Don't just say: "I am an XXX Fellow".  But say: "I am the first XXX Fellow from Germany", or "I am the youngest European NN Fellow in concolic testing".  Replace "European", and "concolic testing" by the most general feature you can find; and replace "NN Fellow" by your most prestigious designation. Don't just say: "Best Paper Award".  But say: "First Best Paper Award for a Debugging Paper written on a one-legged stool".  Don't just say "200 citations".  Also say: "Most cited testing paper since 1996".  Avoid any claim that cannot be independently verified. Coming up with such selling points is hard work, bibliographic query tools are your friends.  Again, reserve lots of time for this work.

But rememberthat every selling point you can come up with this way makes it harder for detractors to dismiss your achievements, and it makes it easier for champions to sell them to others.  In the end, it will have to be clear that you are the only person on earth who can save the world from this terrible, important problem. 

Project Plan

The ERC funds high-risk, high-gain projects.  This means that there have to be substantial risks of failure (otherwise, others would have done this before).  However, your specific research plans should help to mitigate these risks and thus bring the high gains promised. 

Focus on novelty (why is this new?) and potential impact (why is this needed?).  Avoid standard cliches from your discipline ("If only everybody had used this formal method from the start, the Ariane failure could have been prevented..."); come up with fresh, real stories and insights instead.

 Clear title, clear abstract.  Think of the reviewer as an old, bored, nasty, uninterested, overloaded, overcommitted, latently aggressive, and totally uninterested ignorant doofus who hasn't gotten laid in a long time. (I'm a frequent reviewer, too, so I know what I speak about.)

Even so, he or she should get interested in your proposal after a short glimpse of ten seconds.  The message has to be in the title, in the abstract, in the figures, in the diagram, in the examples.  (Yes, please have a diagram that conveys the approach! And please have an example, too!  All these are weapons in the hands of your champions.)

If you fear the message could be too complex, try again.  If you think the message sounds too trivial to you, it could start to be understandable for the rest of us.  (If, after simplification, your approach no longer sounds as cool as before, don't hide this with words, but go back to the drawing board.)

Have a clear structure and plan.  You're a seasoned researcher, so you know how to organize things, don't you?  Now all you need to do is to put this in writing: tasks, dependences, milestones, evaluations, and measurable success criteria.  The point of this exercise is not for the ERC to ask you to follow the plan by the letter once the project starts; the point of this exercise is for the reviewers to see that you can organize things.

Get to the point.  The length of an ERC proposals is clearly limited, and that's a good thing.  Get to the point quickly.  Use a clear language: No buzzwords, no yada, and no lingo.  If your project on "Examining the security interoperability of cloud business process models" cannot be motivated in plain English, don't expect the computer science panel chair to pitch it against "Curing cancer once and for all".

With an ERC grant, you're applying for the highest individual funding one can get in Europe. 

Useful Links:

1.      http://erc.europa.eu/

2.      Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) http://erc.europa.eu/funding-and-grants/frequently-asked-questions

 

 

 

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